Friday, April 16, 2010

The Language of Dogs

Training has changed a great deal since the early 50's when we had our first dog and even since we had our first Basenji in the late 70's. Much has been learned about how the dog thinks and dog behavior since then. I have been caught up in reading some interesting books on dogs lately.

First off I checked out Canine Body Language - A photographic Guide by Brenda Aloff from the library. I liked it so much I bought the book in, the 6th edition. I was interested in doing a website where I would show photos I took at our local dog park and interpret what these dog park dog's body language might mean. Brenda does a find job of catching dogs in the act of whatever they are doing. Her photos are not first class but descriptive nevertheless.

Then I found another book called Canine Behavior by Barbara Hendelman, M. Ed. CDBC. I ordered this off her website because I was impressed by the quality of her pictures. The book is great and far outdoes anything I could do on my website. I was also afraid of offending owners by showing their dogs on my site and not describing the dog's behavior in the best of light.

I also have The Language of Dogs: Understanding Canine Body Language and Other Communication Signals by Sarah Kalnajs, a 2 disk CD which is very useful to watch since a single picture does not tell the whole of a particular body language.

Another book on my list is Reaching the Animal Mind by Karen Pryor: Clicker Training and What it Teaches Us About Animals. This book is a fun read, not just about dogs but training porpoise, horses and other animals including fish with clicker like methods. She has accomplished some amazing thing. Her chapters also list a website where what she talks about in the book can be seen in a video. The first Chapter is about wolves and she gives a link to what the wolves do with clicker training. I somehow find it a little sad that we would teach wolves to teeter totter or porpoise to jump over bars. However I can be a bit critical, we older people are allowed that. LOL!

I'm now reading The Culture Clash: A revolutionary new way of understanding the relationship between humans and domestic dogs by Jean Donaldson. Jean is very straightforward in her look at the different way dog and people think and see the world. She describes the Disney Dog and B.F. Skinners approach to seeing the dog and how it deals with the world. Of course the Disney dog is all our fantasy of dogs but I am sorry to say that I love the Disney Dog and am not wild about B.F. Skinner but I'll read on, of course because I am curious about what people are doing with animals now.

I do think the Basenji is a little harder to "read" than most dogs. Since many are reserved in their manner toward other dogs and humans it would certainly be harder to define their behavior. I am hoping to try to define some behavior through photos of my two boys. After all they can't read so won't be offended.

Marj Baker


  1. The best book (and/or video) on canine body language for the average owner or foster person is still Turid Rugaas' "Calming Signals: On Talking Terms with Dogs". Aloff and Kalnajs tend to be more technical and detailed--and more expensive. Turid's book is short, cheap, and to the point.

  2. Yes, I have read Trid's books also. I should have added them to the list. All these author's and trainers have their own methods and ideas about dog training and behavior. When you get some of them together it a bit disconcerting as I have learned on a view dog training lists. We are still in the learning stage with animal communication. Positive training is at battle with the older methods which used positive/negative inforcement.